The Joint

Next time you get an undeniable urge for a big plate of Jägerschnitzel with shrimp lo mein on the side, head straight east on Alameda Avenue to the Sunset Lounge. Hankering for a chicken-fried steak or a Reuben sandwich? Not to worry: The Sunset's kitchen is nothing if not versatile. It also turns out liver dumpling soup, shrimp salads and something called Mexican egg rolls.

Whether through adaptability or multiple personality disorder, this nineteen-year-old saloon and restaurant has a weird kind of international appeal. The German-style oomp-pah-pah bands that hold forth most weekends are offset on Wednesdays by twangy country-and-Western music, and while you dig into your pork egg foo yung, the party at the next table is likely to be attacking kassler rippchen (smoked pork) with potato pancakes and red cabbage.

Want to work off that big dinner? Dance to the music. Play darts. Or wander out back and pitch some horseshoes.

If this isn't the only German-Chinese restaurant cum nightclub and sports bar that also happens to serve Rocky Mountain oysters on the face of the earth, it's likely the only one within ten days' sailing of downtown Denver. When last we visited, two guys were drinking yeasty Paulaner Hefeweizen beer at the bar, a hefty construction worker was wolfing down a corned beef on rye, and the management was busy planning -- what else? -- a Hawaiian luau, complete with rum-spiked mai tais, to be held on the Sunset's pretty patio. Culinary diversity runs rampant here, and if the total effect is confusing, it's also fun. I mean, when's the last time you ate crab rangoon followed by a kettle of goulash and a pineapple sundae?

Although the Chinese food isn't anything to write home to Nanking about -- a tired selection of chow meins, chop sueys and the like -- the German fare is pretty good. There's a nice bratwurst with sauerkraut for five bucks, and the fragrant beef roladen comes to table with your choice of ideal accompaniments -- including spaetzle and red cabbage. Not ideal, surprisingly, is the potato salad: It's the same bland, yellow stuff you find at supermarkets rather than the vinegary German variety. Fact is, the Sunset's original German proprietors gave way five years ago to new owners, and the establishment's German accent seems to have faded a bit. Order apple strudel these days and the waitress informs you that it's really apple pie.

Hey, chalk it up to a melting-pot experience: The chefs at the Sunset are Oriental -- always have been -- and given the ethnic mixture of the menu, we probably shouldn't be surprised that they do a better job on beef fajitas and barbecued baby back ribs than on chicken gai kow or shrimp in lobster sauce.

The dining room, which is also the dance hall, is a strange and wonderful piece of work in itself. Imagine a barn decorated with stuffed animal heads, a big-screen TV for ballgames, a few dozen brownish dollar bills pinned to the wood-beamed ceiling, and the occasional baffling German-language aphorism. The light fixtures, starbursts encircled by cylindrical gold lamps, are straight out of the Kennedy years, and the waitress never fails to call you "Honey." It's just the place to hear Lee Sims and the Platte River Band while confronting an enormous plate of "Steak Berlin in Berlin Sauce."

Some dancers (and dancing couples) have been regulars for a decade or more. "I haven't missed a Saturday night for years," one 68-year-old woman told us. "It's just a good-time kind of place. And you can get whatever you want to eat."

Indeed. Did we mention that the Thursday special is spaghetti and meatballs?

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Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo